Brigadier Rupert Hoskin AM interview with Johanna Nicholson, ABC News Weekend Breakfast

15 February 2020

Event Brigadier Rupert Hoskin AM interview with Johanna Nicholson, ABC News Weekend Breakfast

Speakers Brigadier Rupert Hoskin AM, Johanna Nicholson, Fauziah Ibrahim 

Date 15 February 2020

Topics BizRebuild, bushfire recovery, big and small business

Fauziah Ibrahim, host: Now, Mogo is one of the towns on the New South Wales south coast that was badly impacted by bushfires, with a number of homes and businesses lost in the blaze. Well, today a pop-up mall is providing a place for burnt out businesses to trade while they look to rebuild in their original locations.

Johanna Nicholson, host: Rupert Hoskin is one of the people involved in this project on the ground there in Mogo and he joins us now. Welcome Rupert. Thanks for joining us this morning. Just tell us about the logistics of setting up this pop-up mall?

Brigadier Rupert Hoskin AM, BizRebuild: Thanks Jo. Lovely to be here and great to have this opportunity to tell our story. So it's a fast-moving piece of work. We started very early and identified this was all about the humans and communities. We came to Mogo early to identify what was going on, on the ground and to get a feel for it. What it feels like personally, what would help. And the situation here is that about 10 businesses lost their premises and need a place to work from. And ATCO has just written to me and said, ‘how can we help?’ So we said, ‘hey, what if we build you a pop-up mall? Somewhere you can trade from while you're waiting for your own premises to be re-established?’

Johanna: So how many businesses will be trading from this pop-up mall?

Rupert: At this stage, it's about six, but we're finding more are moving in, and we've designed it so we can take about 10 businesses, which will cover everybody who has lost their premises here in town.

Johanna: On those losses Rupert, Mogo did suffer terrible losses in the bushfires in January. I understand about 98,000 hectares was burned. We had businesses and homes also burned. How is the community coping and what does this first step mean to them?

Rupert: Yeah, that's a great question. So we're using Mogo as a leading prototype for things that we'll do it in lots of places, and the little journey we've been on over the last couple of weeks has been people who started very dispirited, confronted, they described themselves as suffering, "fire brain". The experience has really taken away their ability to think too far ahead. Well, that was two weeks ago, so since then, we've been working with the community. When we offered that this might be a good solution, they immediately welcomed it with open arms, and it's been thrilling to be a part of it. Because we see people now turn around, they've got a plan, they're writing up lists of what they're going to do, they're talking to their accountants about how they're going to rebuild. And it's palpable, the sense of hope and a sense of direction. Rebuild and get going again.

Johanna: It's so interesting that sense of hope, because when a business burns down, it's not just the financial loss of the actual business burning down, it's the future financial losses as well. But it's also the lack of purpose, because if you're going to work each day at this business and owning a small business and operating a small business takes so much work, it's not a nine to five job. So when that is burnt down, that sense of hope and purpose can really be questioned. And so, I can imagine with this mall, it sounds small, but it is providing that hope.

Rupert: Very much so. And you've evoked the full breadth of the situation they're facing. I mean it was almost a two-stage catastrophe, because clearly the fires themselves were horrific, very confronting, happened very fast. New Year's Eve, a lot of destruction, just a lot of fear and all the consequences with that. And then for even the people who weren't affected by the fire, that complete loss of income through the most important period of the year for income of businesses that are largely related to tourism. So now they've got to deal with that. But as you quite rightly say: they've got to think ahead and plan. So we've got a number of initiatives that I can explain if you like, that addressed the full breadth of what they need, not just a premise to trade from?

Johanna: Yes, please explain.

Rupert: So first of all, we've got an initiative that is about re-tooling. So while people work through their insurance and the like, if someone has actually has had their tools of trade destroyed by fire, up to the value of $2,000, we will re-equip them with the tools they need to get on with their business, whatever it might be; trade, farm, you name it. We've also got a voucher system to help people go and get the sort of professional advice about what grants and loans they might be entitled to, how they might structure their business to deal with the loss of cashflow, and just get someone to help them think a little bit more strategically, while they get back on their feet. These vouchers are for local businesses to help. So even for example, in Mogo here; one of the businesses in the pop-up is an accountant. And so she's going to help the people in her own community with funds that we inject into the community, to move on. In similar vein, we're running expos where lots of companies that are members of the Business Council of Australia have rallied with incredible generosity and a very sincere desire to help. So we're matching up larger businesses that have all sorts of good advice to provide about how to restructure, how to get ahead, and we're moving around the communities as quickly as we can to give them this information, and then help align them with what they need then to get some personal advice and move ahead.

Johanna: Rupert, this sounds like a fantastic plan for Mogo, a comprehensive plan, but I imagine there are people watching from other towns that were affected by the bushfires. We had towns in New South Wales and Victoria particularly affected, what would you say to those people?

Rupert: Absolutely. Great point. Our remit is the breadth of where this bushfire series affected Australia, and we're looking at every place that's been affected, starting from the fires last year. Our program has a duration of five years, and we absolutely intend to cover the full breadth of the area that is covered by these bushfires. What we've had to do is build the plane and fly it at the same time. This organisation within the Business Council of Australia didn't exist a few weeks ago. So while we're also thinking about how we might deliver an a nation-wide program, designing that program, we're spending time on the ground, and we wanted to get out of the door fast with a couple of prototypes of all those things I just described, so that we could first of all test our model, refine it as we go, but do it from a real bias for action approach. And so people who see what we're doing here in Mogo, I hope they take away from that a sense of hope and some ideas about what might help their community. Whatever we do, it might not look like this; it might be something completely different elsewhere, but we were keen to get out there, find out what's needed and do it.

Johanna: Rupert Hoskin, all the best with it. Thank you so much for joining us this morning and good luck with this pop-up mall.

Rupert: Thank you very much. I'd just like to provide a quick shout-out to some of the wonderful people we meet as we do this. In addition to all of the great emergency services and ADF, the people in businesses themselves, their chambers of commerce are just showing such resilience, such resourcefulness and such leadership. It's humbling and a great pleasure to see them in action. So thank you. And all the very best.

Johanna: Yeah fantastic. A good shout out to them. Thanks Rupert. And that's right; often when you have these terrible things happen in Australia, you do see that real Australian character and the real Australian spirit come out.

Fauziah: Definitely. And it's a great initiative as well; it's fantastic. And I like the point that you made was that to give hope to a community and to people in order to look forward to something, to rebuilding.

Johanna: Yes. All the best to them.